Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
It is my opinion that self reflection is perhaps one of the most important attributes of a successful teacher. This characteristic is essential because it bears so heavily on the overall quality of education an instructor provides. Whether successful or not, I believe the culmination of every project should lead to some degree of reflective thinking on the part of the educator. These introspective inquiries should be motivated by a sincere desire to further improve the instruction, application, and outcomes involved in the lesson. And I find, more often than not, that the one factor requiring modification or revision is the method in which I am presenting the project.
However, this ability to step back and view our own performance from an impartial vantage point can be a difficult task for many reasons. It can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed, especially when projects have been ineffective or unproductive. It can be time consuming to try and evaluate all the various elements involved in an assignment and isolate the ones in need of refinement. And in a profession where our clientele changes so frequently, it is often challenging to not be biased in how we view our teaching style. When reflecting upon the success of a lesson though, I believe there is another contributing factor that must be considered: The Group Dynamic.
This variable directly addresses the regularity with which our classrooms are refreshed with new students. Any seasoned teacher will agree that every class is a microcosmic community, and the unique energy generated by each particular group of students can have a dramatic impact on the overall classroom atmosphere. This becomes especially apparent when teaching the same course multiple times each day. Even when presenting the same information in, more or less, the exact same fashion, the response from the various classes can be significantly different. Some classes might be populated by numerous students with preexisting talent. Other classes may have a majority of students with no previous experience at all. The number of students who already know each other will obviously have an impact on the mood of the class, as will the various demographics of age, race, gender, and socio-economic status. There are countless scenarios and an innumerable assortment of students that all provide an unending array of classroom environments.
All of this conspires to illustrate the somewhat clich__ mantra of the sincere teacher which states that we do not teach a subject, we teach students. If you can ignore the debatable semantics of that statement, there is a real pearl of truth to be discovered. If an educator only focuses on teaching their subject area, they miss the whole point of the profession. And unfortunately there are teachers that do this, that simply relay the required information in the way with which they are most familiar, and it is up to the student to make sure they comprehend. I like to believe however, that the converse is true for a majority of public school teachers. They understand that real learning only takes place by focusing their attention on the students first, and then presenting their content in a way that suits those specific pupils.
The group dynamic is an inescapable element in the classroom, and an attentive teacher is well aware of its potential to effect learning. With each new semester, after a customary two week "honeymoon" grace period, the personality of each class begins to reveal itself. In fact, most teachers will admit that it does not take long to identify the one hour a day that will prove to be the most challenging and the most enjoyable. In much the same way that a good friend is familiar with the character traits of their peers, a skilled educator will quickly recognize the persona of each class. This knowledge can then be used to help cater the style of instruction to match the needs of each class. It can also be beneficial when evaluating the effectiveness of a particular project. As I mentioned before, when teaching the same subject several times a day I discover interesting trends in the final products. Some classes will always excel while others will perform far less consistently. These kinds of fluctuations must be considered when deciding if and how to restructure an assignment.
While I cannot speak for teachers of other content areas, I do believe that the group dynamic is even more applicable in an art classroom where the work being done is so subjective and personal. The sooner I can get to know the ___vibe___ of a class, the sooner I can begin to really teach to them, instead of at them. And the more effective I am at establishing a connection with those students, the more effective I am at helping them to begin to create works of art with more sensitivity and sincerity. And those are two essential components in all great art. The significance of that cycle is not lost on me, though sometimes is does get overshadowed by the demands of every day. In order to help my students learn to create art that sincerely attempts to connect with an audience, I must first attempt to sincerely connect with them. It__™s different with every single class, every single semester. It is a process that is both frightening and exhilarating. Though at its best, when it__™s really working and I__™m truly realting with a class, it is also one of the most rewarding aspects of my career.